Bahraini Rants

I rant you risten

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

the gremlin in me comes out

i have a problem when it comes to snacks.. it's not a problem as much as it's an addiction.. the only reason i'm writing this now is that insomnia is telling to stop being such a pussy - so i find myself infront of another screen.. i digress.. just for a little backdrop: i'm quite good about monitoring my eating habits: yogurt for breakfast, salad for lunch, soup for dinner, fit in a will timed run. leading a healthy lifestyle is not difficult. my problem only comes alive after i've showered and brushed my teeth and it's late at night.. waiting there staring at me right in my face.. hidden behind the pasta in the dry goods cupboard, the packaging taunts and taunts me.. before i know it, i'm about to destroy the hinges, and peeling back wrappers shoving one two three four sometimes give pieces of pastry in my mouth.. in each hand i carry two sometimes three pieces.. and then in a dramatization reminiscent of the ogre under the bridge, i wave my candy carrying hands to hide the tears of shame streaming down my face, and yell (with a full mouth i might add) "don't look at me!" - quelle horor..

dear reader, i am what you'd call a mogwai.. you can't feed me after midnight (solid rule people, solid rule), otherwise i'd turn into a gremlin.. in my case, i turn into a snack monster of epic proportions.. why i wait till the evening, i have no idea.. but there are a a few treats that i am unable to resist.. once placed in my household, i cannot conceive of going through my day without inspecting and sampling the finest in my humble abode..

for your reading pleasure, i have compiled a few of these treats that i cannot go without.. feel free to comment on agreements, disagreements, or your own personal candied de rigueur.

Baklawa from Tariq Pastries
Bahraini sweets (halwa) is part of our culture.. but one of the first baklawa pastry shops to open in bahrain was none other than Tariq Pastries. I am biased, i grew up eating the stuff, made by long family friends for generations.. but until you try the treat, just trust me.. they were the first to perfect the pastry nut syrup combination.. they were then the first to come up with the idea of dipping the pastry in milk and white chocolate.. often imitated but never recreated - a double layer tray of baklawa lasts about 2 (maybe 3) days in my place.. i have started bringing trays for the desk at the office here in london.. and it never lasts the week.. i could write a whole post about this stuff..

Havana Alfajores
Meringue sandwich cookies with dulce de leche and covered in icing sugar.. introduced to me by my Argentine roommate back in 2002.. my life changed.. it was years before i had them again.. until i was with mrs. rants roaming borough market that i found these cookies and bought two boxes.. needless to say, they're super rich, she might've had half of one, and i devoured two boxes.. i'd say try it with some coffee.. but who could resist? 

Al-Rifai nuts
One of the best exports of the Arab world is Lebanon's Al-Rifai nuts.. Bahrain airport has a stand, and i cannot walk past en route to some sad country with no proper pistachios or cashews without picking up a kilo. it's very funny, but for us in the middle east, we laugh at the quality of nuts available in the west.. cashews in the supermarket here in london are a joke.. A canadian friend from bschool once credited Al-Rifai for being the best snack to have with a drink.. i cannot disagree.. the supermix is the way to go.. and if you cheat and have the cheese flavored cashews - well i wont tell anyone..

Kermani brothers Kaz
Iran, is home to the best nougat i've ever sampled.. individually wrapped with pistacho, the chewy delectable treat is easily consumed.. the box has a picture on the cover of (a young) old man Kermani with weirdish ears.. if you see that.. then you know you've got the real deal.. i can go through a box in an entire sitting, lying to myself over and over that this one was going to be the last..

the brownie to end all brownies.. 
special mention goes to my sister who has perfected the brownie to the point it's sinful.. again i'm biased.. but there's enough people who can corroborate this bias, so i don't feel so bad.. yarz makes the most delectable brownies that you forgive yourself for eating 12 pieces.. now if she'd only do this for monetary gain, i'd rather pay her for the brownies than use brotherly emotional guilt to get them.. 

unt, there you have it.. my kryptonite.. presented to you in a neat little post as a result of that medium latte double shot i had at 4:30pm (which i knew was a bad idea at the time, but went along with it anyways)..

Monday, September 13, 2010

music is my hot hot..

I love my music.. I spend as much time in front of a screen searching for music as a pubescent boy spends his time jerking off. Part of my retail therapy program involves buying tons of cds. I grew up having different types of music shoved into my face as long as I can remember – parents, siblings, aunts uncles, friends, etc. I am meticulous about my music - And I am difficult.. I push music on my friends and if they don’t like it, I sometimes (and I’m not proud of this) get offended..

Rocknroll, blues, dance (and all it’s forms), world, jazz, big band, opera, hip-hop, classical, offensive, original and not forgetting obtrusive to over the top.. I listen to it all – with a sympathetic ear I might add.. per example: I fell into this thing for French house initially in 2000, but went back and listened to everything from Montmartre to Montparnasse. Muzo, a dj friend said “you’ll outgrow it”.. sorry bro, I’m still tuned in..

As a consequence of being a lover of music, I love music loud.. I have quite a lovely balcony (swingeth).. but I must pay homage and wonderful thanks to my neighbors for never giving me shit.. and believe you me, I’ve given them plenty of opportunities to give me plenty of shit.. I like to think, they love my Friday rituals and the good music.

Fridays, I come home from work, and if you can sense the night taking a turn for the terrific, open up the balcony, crank up the music and fix myself a drink (pastis with soda water – sorry max).. people watching with loud music, a nice drink of choice and it begins.. Breakfast on the balcony also requires music, but less invasive so early in the morning.. hans zimmer’s compositions on the True Romance soundtrack is something of itself..

By stroke of pure luck – I have a fantastic group of incredibly gifted friends who are musicians.. yours truly penned a classic comedic tragedy of a ballad about the trials and tribulations of mohin, the guy who used to work at the shabab’s gahwa (Beirut coffee shop – “Il Safra” {yellow} – only because everytime they’d paint the walls inside white, all the smoke from the sheeshas would turn the walls yellow).. it was a big hit.. diversion.. back on track.. late late nights on a series of instruments coordinated yelling into microphones.. special mention to the talented ones..

There are certain moments in our lives that connect you with a performance and you have an experience of a lifetime. Music, whether it’s the local cover band or the latest sensation – it all sounds good live. Go see your favorite bands live, it’s one of the coolest experiences you can ever initiate..

I conclude this random but themed non sequitur with the mix tape.. everyone loves the mixtape – the highschool car tape, the girlfriend, the breakup, the no reason.. labeling, the names, the memory of a time or a specific night of rumbustifications..

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The narrative saga of the afghan kitchen..

Tucked and almost invisible to the naked eye in a hidden bend on Upper Street by the Islington green rests a recognizable name to residents – the afghan kitchen. A mom and pop operation that serves delectable (I miss that word) ethnic curries with a nice pile of basmati rice – transplanting you to the bosoms of comfort food heaven (that is if you’re from that part of the world where you’d equate curry and basmati rice to comfort food). Raved about by my brother and his wife for years, I decided to now give it a try since I was a short walk away.

Little did I know, that the Afghan kitchen would become the thorn in my side that I loved to twist.. the eatery took the form of an older bullying sibling, one that enjoyed making you jump through hoops for sheer amusement - all the time you've got this whiny voice begging him/her to stop bugging you. I tried in vain to locate the place, and yet I kept on missing it. Going back to the great internet brain, I’d google map it and yet again miss it.. thinking they might have closed or something like that.. The more I read about the place the more I wanted to go and eat there. My research had already prepared me to skip booby trap #1: cash or check, no credit cards.. mental note to self “make sure you have cash”. Easy. Then finally, one random nondescript day, I spot the tiny shop with the tiny sign that brought me to skipping about and jumping for joy! Alas, it was a Sunday, they were closed, and I had already eaten - but that did not matter, for i knew had the coordinates.

Picking the right kind of food coma day, I head down with parents (visiting) cause I couldn’t stop talking about said restaurant only to find it closed. We picked an acceptable mealtime hour to eat, and yet they had no hours of operation sign on their door, I did not know when they'd be open. Then just to pour pickled onions soaked in vinegar into my wounds, my parents both tell me that my brother must’ve taken them there cause they remember eating here years ago and it was delicious.. Argh.. booby trap #2: know the exact opening hours, no strolling in, you need to prepare.

Back to the internet, I find out their hours, and read more reviews.. they have this one dish that has tender chunks of lamb and spinach curry – that, I kid you not, gave me a little bit of a "is that your hands in your pocket or you happy to see me?" feeling. With every passing day, I continued to think about how good this lamb spinach curry would taste like.. i wanted to eat it, i wanted to dress up, rent a limo and take the bowl of lamb spinach stew on a night out on the town.. i wanted to get cozy with the bowl, up close and personal.

My breakthrough came when my sisters were visiting, I woke them up on a Saturday for lunch, told them where we were going, even called the afghan kitchen at 12:30pm to see if they’re open, they were, and off we went. Regaling them with maria1962’s reviews or how urbanspoon called it magical – I filled their appetites with enough anticipation that we were set for the lunch to end all lunches.. at 1:00pm the waitress saunters up the stairs to the table next to us to give them a bowl of that lamb spinach curry.. winking at my sisters I use our secret Arabic language to indicate that’s what we’re gonna have. She turns to us, hands out menus and then tells us that there’s no lamb spinach curry.. that was the last bowl.. What do you mean there’s no more? You’ve been open for 45minutes how can you run out so quickly? The place isn’t even that full?? She then tells me of a pickup order that took most of the curry inventory on hand..

I was left in a difficult situation.. the table next to me were just about to tuck into that which I’ve been fighting to have for a good part of four months.. how can I not have it? Thoughts of negotiating came to mind. Excuse me, sorry to interrupt.. yes? before you sully that bowl of lamb and spinach with your spoon, I have a proposition I’d like to make you .. you see, my willingness to pay for that bowl of goodness in front of you, is, and I’m willing to make this estimate with a fair bit of confidence, is way way way higher than your willingness to part with it. I’d like to propose a suggestion, what if I bought you and your companion lunch today.. you can order anything you want as long as I get to have that bowl.. my sisters thought I was ridiculous, but then again, I am. Just as I was about to lean in, I realised that I’d be the only person who’d be enjoying the curry, meaning that they (my lovely sisters) would also want to share all the curries, something I just wasn’t prepared to do. I called time on our short visit to the Afghan Kitchen, picked them up and marched them out to another restaurant. Either we all eat lamb spinach curry, or no one eats lamb spinach curry. And with the deflated head of the evil nemesis from an 80s cartoon, i whispered in a skeletor voice “you may have one the battle, but I’ll get you next time lamb spinach curry..” booby trap #3: call to have them reserve your order.

Weeks later, I eventually get to sit down and enjoy the curry for all its sublime home cooked goodness.. There was the tender chunks of meat bearing a series of flavors so complex and yet so familiar - there was the basmati rice that smelled so fragrant, - there were pickles that gave my spoonfuls a little zing- there was Bahrain in every bite.. I won, I finally won.. enjoying the delicious meal over and over again, I sidestepped the pitfalls and foxholes.. but it wasn’t finished yet.. there was still the 36th chamber..

Raving about the afghan kitchen to friends, we decide to do a full on, big family Saturday meal at Kam’s place. I was going to pick up the food and then hop a cab and lunch would be perfect.. having become well versed in the methods of the kitchen, I called 4 days in advance to pre-book.. my early stage planning was casually brushed aside by what I’d like to call developing world time (Arab time, Indian time, African time, anything to push back being timely).. I call back a day before the lunch, and ask them for 4 orders of the lamb spinach, 2 orders of the chicken, 1 order of the pumpkin dish and a whole mess of rice.. I get met with a hesitant response and the phone gets shuffled to mama afghan kitchen, who proceeds to tell me, that 4 orders of the lamb spinach ees too too much for you have you can only have 2. I fight back. What do you mean? I called 4 days ago and you told me that I should call the day before. She then countered with, my husband used to do all the cooking and now I do eet, eet take a long time to make and eet’s a popular dish. She finally throws the kitchen sink at me, I couldn’t deprive the other customers.. of course, I wasn’t going to have any of it.. listen lady, I’ve done everything I had to do.. are you in the business of selling food to customers? Well then I don’t see what the problem is.. I know you do large orders, and I don’t have a ginormous order.. so cut me some slack.. she finally agrees.. but not before the sky turns grey and a cackle of lightening crashes down on a street light in my neighbourhood.. .

Saturday rolls around.. I go to pick it up the food.. I meet mama afghan kitchen and she tells me that it takes so long to prepare the lamb spinach - that she and her husband do all the cooking and it’s a lot of work.. I thanked her for the food and her time.. paid my bill and went to get out.. the minute I step out carrying all this food.. it starts raining.. 3 minutes into me trying to catch a cab I finally find one.. To Mayfair my good man! And off we go.. but to make matters worse, there’s a whole procession closing off all the roads from my part of town to Mayfair.. the cab driver then tells me it best to jump onto the tube a stop, then switch lines, get to green park and then take a cab.. all I could see is Mama Afghan Kitchen last night, sweat dripping off her brow, stirring a pot of food chanting out loud: i call upon the blood of all my ancestors to make this meal for you as uncomfortable as I am in preparing it tonight.. and bam.. there I was running around the tube in London carrying two enormous bags of food, with the smell seeping onto the Piccadilly line and following me around until I got to Kam’s place. At one point I couldn't tell if the other passengers were offended by the smell or were going to mug me for the food. booby trap #4: always be nice to mama afghan kitchen.. thankfully once I got there, we sat down and enjoyed a fantastic meal and the tender chunks of lamb and spinach curry mixed with that wonderful basmati rice erased the saga I endured and brought back Bahrain with every single bite..

Monday, August 09, 2010

no one saw it coming but me..

It is your typical west end night club.. A line of people that snakes around a corner and another jumbled and uncontrollable mass (refusing to wait) crowding the front door: demanding their reservations for a table (something nice by the dance floor), waving off the minimum spend requirements for bottled service, calling the door staff by their exotic sounding names: Viviana, Igor, Maximus… You know the type of place I'm talking about - with the short syllable name (Chi, Huu, etc) or maybe even the nonsensical mixed name "something foreign with something that makes no sense at all" - etoile dew.

Inside, the place has plush velvet walls with round booths for the tables.. Scantily clad dancers gyrate and swing around getting the attention of the hapless drinker, unable to make sense from the 20 pound drink at the bar or the fact that it's been watered down just for him.. Teeming with people, this exclusively classy joint is filled with those who have that money and those who want that (type) money. Girls and suits, girls and suits. Glancing around in the darkness, illuminated by the split second strobe that brings a brief glimpse of the pretty young things dancing at your table, you ask, why am I here? I don’t really feel like I belong here.. Who knows why you're really here, out on the pull, blowing off steam from a hectic work schedule, dragged out by a drunken friend/fiend, following the crowd - might as well make the most of it..

The night rolls on, and you get drunker.. A little loopy, you perfect your balancing act on the table, using a double magnum of the finest marketed vodka to maintain tightrope composure. The ability to distinguish cheeky from stupid becomes quite blurry and you're pouring vodka down your own throat daring fate to bring it.. A brilliant idea comes to you with where you decide to share it with the people around you.. First a friend who's just a clouded as you, tilts his head back as you splash alcohol into his mouth and on his Hermes tie.. A very pretty girl (as they normally are in a fine establishment such as this) casually passes by and you decide to rope her into your merriment and vodka fountain. You tap her beautifully bare shoulder with the utmost care of a gentlemen and she swings around with that perfect hair - and looks expecting a debonair with the highest level of instruction - only to find a baggy eyed, pasty suit trying to pour a double magnum of vodka down her throat with his other hand stabbing the air above with his flying dancehall fists..

Even in this type of darkness, you can see the look of horror in her perfectly done up face as she reacts to push the bottle away. In this unnecessary late night tugowar of a over sized bottle of alcohol, you end up splashing the overpriced moonshine on her dress and a few other irate people. The melee results with you winning the bottle but at the expense of breaking her nose with the base of your prize.. Now, just to make you feel like there's an even bigger pile of sh*t heading into the vicinity of your fortune, two very large gentlemen approach and yank you off the table with that type of realness and pressure that would make anyone squeal like a pig. It just so happens to turn out that the pretty girl who's nose you just broke in that unnecessary fracas, is someone way more important than you, and these two gentlemen are going show how much more important than you she is... And in that instant you get pulled out into the darkens of the club, outside the door to the back alley to get the beating of a lifetime in the lifespan of 60minutes… but thankfully, that's not me, I'm just the innocent bystander in the next booth over, bored with his night and decided the lead up to a disastrous night..

Thursday, August 05, 2010

today was one of those days

It’s been one of those days..

It started off with lunch..

I have a hectic schedule and operate at a rushed pace with everything having to happen at a quick, methodical and efficient rate. My only real break in the day is when I run off to get my lunch and [on] this day I wanted a sandwich.

The deli is normally an efficient single queue (very English) with about 4-5 sandwich-istas preparing your meal. You can normally tell the new hire from the veteran, [and/or other sentence connector] serving lunch to a bunch of problematic on-the-go people makes you a [sarnie] veteran very quickly (ohh polish boy with the fluttering ears I remember when you were bumbling about trying to layer the lettuce over the Branston pickle – look at you now, commanding the line and making casual conversation with your coworkers while making my lunch – bravo good sir! Bravo..)

While waiting in line, I spot one of the new guys move over to the side room running his hand under the sink, aka, he cut himself while making a sandwich. I anxiously watch him put anti-bacterial [gel?] on, then slip on another set of gloves and get back in line. By a crude calculation in my head measuring the time it takes to prepare a sandwich, the quick glances of the how fat the assembly line was at with the readiness of the sandwiches and how many people I had in front of me – I [realised] was going to get served by newbie von finger slice..


“you know what bro, I’ll just wait for the next person”

“but they’re all busy, I’m next, what would you like”

“no really, it’s good, I don’t mind waiting”

“you’re holding up the line, you don’t want me to make your sandwich?”

“it’s not that I don’t want you to make my sandwich, but I saw you washing your hand after what appeared to be a cut.. and if it’s all the same with you, I don’t want you bleeding over my lunch”

He raises his hand, “there’s no blood see? And I’m wearing a plastic glove”

“There’s a bunch of things I can’t see and that’s fine, I can’t see them, but I know that you cut your hand and I know that you don’t have a plaster on, and I don’t want you making my sandwich.. all I’m saying is if I’m going to be paying for my lunch, I’d at least want it to be hygienic – no offence”

Person behind me chimes in “yeah I’ll wait too..”

I got a dirty look today – I’m worried he’s gonna pick his nose and use that as a spread next time I order my sandwich from him.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

my love for east london

Every city has that split – the Rive Gauche Versus the Rive Droite. Uptown versus downtown – East Saar Road Versus West Saar road – it’s just how things are.. London’s very much the same, West London and its manicured gardens clean street and lovely preserved architecture versus East London’s piss stained alleys, graffiti and ethnic folk mixing it up with the artistes and addicts..

I live in central London, but to my friends out west, the E before my EC1 postcode clumps me in a grouping relating to the outer edge of modern civilization. And to be honest with you, that suits me just fine.. you see there’s lots of things I like about the east that you just can’t replicate, just like there are some fantastic parts of west London that you can’t find anywhere else.. this is not a critique or a comparison, it’s merely a tribute to the things that make me love anything with an “E” in the postcode..

The fact that…

Fashion is definitely born in east London and slowly starts to make its way west getting more and more toned down. Skinny jeans, over the top hairstyles, vintage outfits that making Notting hill feel a sell out, waxed up and wacky mustaches, sunglasses, pasty skin, no batted eyelids unless its to approve your look, fashion photographers roaming the streets, yes it’s hipper than hip. my favorite neighborhood couple are constantly dressed as though they’re stuck in a time warp from world war II but with a little bit of today’s edge: I see them in my supermarket with their perfectly time stamped hairstyles and matching era outfits - you just don’t find that anywhere else.. the caveat to this is that everyone you pass by looks like they’re a member of some indie band and office suits carry the same looks as endangered furs, but, I’d still rather this abrasive clash of unison then anything else..

The history just makes you want to soak it in: London’s one of those towns that’s got history in every crack and side street, but to me, the grime and gristle of London has more charm than it’s glitz and glamor. It’s all right Sherlock Holmes was meant to live on baker street and they weren’t exactly sure where because they switched the street numbering.. JACK THE RIPPER caused mayhem in whitechapel and that does intrigue me. Dickens based a lot of stories in my hood, that contemporary art in London really took a defined shape thanks to its east London denizens.

The crack addicts and alcoholics have well thought out stories with props when they ask you for money. It’s not just, excuse me can you spare some change, it’s a, hello, I lost my money on the bus coming to the eye hospital (he produces a patient admission card from two months ago) and need money to get back home.. or my personal favorite the arab guy who’s in a wheel chair because of bombs falling from the sky.. Weeks later I find him boozing it up with another bum all cracked out trying to stand up.. classic.. hats off to the prop..

The Music and Parties in the east rock : now this bit is completely my personal opinion, but it’s my piece so I’m quite happy to throw my vote out there. Getting to the location is always a bit dodge, with random questions being raised over the safety or legality of the venue.. but that’s soon replaced by the head bobbing and gushing over the fact that James Murphy is ripping into the microphones.. yes daft punk is playing at my house, my house.. and although I could say the ego’s checked at the curb side I have to say the crowd can be a little difficult and indifferent.. Also, special mention goes out to the pop up clubs (double club last year and the pop up pirates this year) that can only find space and licenses to throw their parties this side of town.. shazaam

the food cravings don’t stop. London’s a big town, and food is generally good if you know where to go (special mention to the taqueria on Westbourne grove).. from the Gastropubs that cook up the best 7 hour roast lamb shoulder or the goose fat chips, the pizzas at story deli, to the lamb chops at the original new tayyabs and all it’s graduates (Lahore kabab house and needo), to my secret sushi spot by a disillusioned nobu chef (aren’t they all?).. The food stalls of brick lane, borough and broadway markets with the food (mrs rants and her love for the raclette at borough market –its good) the hangovers that have subsided thanks to the variety of taste-ables to satisfy your pangs..

so that’s my love for the east

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Return of the Rant

i used to write here, but then i stopped.
i'm back,, intermittently, but back nonetheless..

it's been a little under three years since i last posted - i thought i was going to give this up until i found the time to write again.. so much has happened, the condensed version: i took a long break, went off to sell out to the man, learn about bidness in bidness school, enjoyed a carefree life on a series of continents and met a barrage of incredibly amazing people along the way.. sounds like a lot of fun, it has been..

i've been in london for the last year and a half starting my day when most people don't even contemplate hitting the snooze button.. it's been good, long, sleep deprived and incredibly enriching.. again, met interesting people and fell in love along the way.. so that gets you up to speed..

so i'm hoping to get back into the swing of things just writing whatever comes..

thanks for passing by.. don't be a stranger,